The Initial Command

McCain in Iraq
(photo: Department of Defense)

The Obama campaign has categorically rejected John McCain’s proposal for a joint trip to Iraq, calling it a “publicity stunt.” Publicity stunt it most certainly is, but why is it automatically assumed that the publicity would only benefit McCain? Because he proposed it? Or because the facts on the ground are thought to validate his views? Nettlesome matters that McCain would be wise to emphasize in the wake of the rejection.

While Obama’s supporters are snarling at what they consider to be a pattern politics of either immaturity or sage condescension (they’re apparently a bit vexed by the event), the campaign may have missed a tremendous opportunity here.

It should be relatively obvious that McCain’s proposal contains enormous political risk for him. One somewhat nearby car bomb and Obama is handed an unparalleled media opportunity to say “see, I told you progress was a mere illusion.” The amplifying effect provided by a petrified domestic political media in reluctant tow, huddling in Kevlar, would be devastating to the McCain campaign message.

But even if everything went well, the publicity of the tour couldn’t help but reflect favorably on Obama. As a gesture of magnanimity, pragmatism, commitment, shared responsibility and yes, not a little courage. After all, McCain is presently vastly more trusted on matters of national security, to the stunning tune of 53% to 31%. What could Obama possibly stand to lose by having McCain essentially acknowledge they are of equal standing by taking such a tour. And a tour whose schedule would be subject to negotiation at McCain’s disadvantage. Having proposed the scheme, he’d be hard pressed to scuttle it, if Obama wanted to tour areas of the country that reveal failures in security and/or reconstruction.

Lastly, is it such an improvement on perception to have been goaded into taking a trip to Iraq on your own, by the mere suggestion of McCain that your absence was irresponsible.

I consider this the first significant strategic error of the general election, if it has resulted in McCain setting Obama’s travel schedule. An unnerving precedent for Democrats. The initial command of the election’s message and direction unexpectedly goes to McCain.

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5 Responses to “The Initial Command”

  1. on 01 Jun 2008 at 2:37 am Stella

    I believe you are right on this one as Obama really needs to take the initiative and visit Iraq with or without McCain as it would be important for his campaign and to his policy.

  2. on 02 Jun 2008 at 7:23 am Joshua Foust

    Obama is right, though, it is just an empty stunt. McCain in particular should know, as he has the worst luck, with a rich track record of touring “safe” areas only to see them ripped apart by suicide bombs once he leaves. A politician will never get an honest look at the challenges in Iraq by touring FOBs and the Green Zone.

    But unfortunately, symbols and empty publicity stunts seem to matter a lot in politics. Obama is dumb not to just suck it up and go.

  3. on 02 Jun 2008 at 7:38 am Lee

    You’ve a selective preference for symbology, Joshua. Put a few iron gates and car traps up in front of an embassy and the entire American enterprise is gutted of appeal. But take a tour of the war zone and the heart of our national political dilemma, why that’s just an empty gesture.

  4. on 03 Jun 2008 at 8:51 pm Joshua Foust

    Oh you poor thing. Is it that unclear that I think both are symbolic? I must have missed the time that going on a US Army-guided tour of some streets with a full Brigade escort gave John McCain any better idea how the war is going than anyone else.

  5. on 03 Jun 2008 at 9:22 pm Lee

    >>Is it that unclear that I think both are symbolic?

    No, I didn’t say that you didn’t understand that both possessed symbolism, I said your preference for symbolism is selective, and as the contrasting examples demonstrate: selectively backwards.

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